The electoral defeat of Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, and the resultant return of New Democracy [ND] to power in Greece, by the hand of now Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, repulsive representative of a conservative political dynasty [1], must lead the world left to a deep analysis and making efforts to draw lessons from this thorny issue.

By Daniel Sugasti
The call for reflection of the Greek case fits, above all, the very large “progressive” sector that supported Syriza with no break since its ascendancy. An endorsement that, although now it can manifest itself in a more or less shy or shameful manner in certain cases, was especially filled with passion when Syriza reached its electoral boom in 2015. A political phenomenon that gave it a thunderous victory in the parliamentary elections and made it possible, for the first time, that a party said of the “radical left” ruled a country.
So that Syriza’s electoral success splashed them as much as possible in that time of frenzy, left politicians like Luciana Genro, from the MES current of the Brazilian PSOL, stated that: “I am Syriza! And since a long time ago.” She even wrote to Tsipras, then brand new prime minister: “We consider it a PSOL victory for us too. Syriza radiates and feeds the hope of fighters across Europe and around the world. […] We at PSOL have supported and gambled on you from the start, […]”[2]. In Europe, the special guest at the closing ceremony of Syriza’s election campaign in January 2015 was Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Spanish PODEMOS.
We link one thing with another because we consider that Syriza’s political defeat, as well as the electoral decline and the obvious crisis that corrodes PODEMOS [3],  is – more than a “traditional right-wing win” – the failure of all national expressions of neo-reformism. It not only proved unable to offer an alternative to fight the imperialist social war against the European peoples but acted and acts with the same practices of the “old right.” This is due to the fact that their political stance is not more than to come to power to be managers of the crisis of increasingly decadent capitalism.
Greek tragedy
New Democracy won the parliamentary elections with 39.8 percent of the ballots [a remarkable growth, if we consider that it reached 27.8 percent in 2015], against 31.5 percent for Syriza [36.3 in 2015]. In the European and local elections held in May, Syriza was down to almost 25 percent. If in July it grew to around 32 percent it was because the inevitable pressure and propaganda weighed to some extent in favor of the tactical vote against the return of the right. But, anyway, Syriza was luckier than the “socialists” of the former PASOK [4]. It held 86 deputies and represents the first “active opposition” force, according to Alexis Tsipras [5]. If it will really be an “active opposition,” let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
Mitsotakis will govern with an absolute majority – by the way, something that has not happened since 2009 – with 158 of the 300 seats in the unicameral Parliament [6]. He said his mission was “to make sure we restart the economy, with ambitious growth driven by private investments, exports, and innovation.” As if it were necessary, he hastened to ensure that he will honor the commitments to Greece’s creditors, always in exchange for a “comprehensive reforms package [7]”.
The new Greek prime minister was greeted by figures like Putin; Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission; Turkish President Erdogan; and, of course, with the blessing of Angela Merkel. The Eurogroup president Mario Centeno did the same from Brussels and, in addition, insisted that the new ruler must “respect the commitments” in relation to the debt assumed by his predecessors, including Tsipras.
The working class cannot have any confidence in this new government. Mitsotakis, who was Minister of Public Administration during Andonis Samarás government, is remembered for firing thousands of state workers during the height of the Greek crisis. Nor is he out of corruption charges. His wife, Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis, appeared in the well-known Panama Papers as the owner of 50% of a company based in the Cayman Islands, managed by a fund that operated in the Virgin Islands. And he was sued for having accepted bribes from Siemens in 2008, which uncovered his close relationship with the company.
There are also familiar faces in the new cabinet. The most important ministry, that of Economy, will be exercised by the liberal Christos Staikuras, former Deputy Minister of this department during Samarás government when Greece signed the second bailout plan. But the most controversial ministers are those from the extreme right: Adonis Georgiadis, the new Minister for Growth and Investments, and Makis Voridis, appointed Minister for Agriculture and Food. Georgiadis began his career in the far-right Laos party, and in 2012 he migrated to ND. He was Minister for Health in Samarás cabinet, and during that period he was responsible for implementing reform in the health system that left more than 2.5 million unemployed without medical assistance, in addition to firing 1,500 doctors. Voridis, in the 1980s, led the youth of the extreme right organization EPEN, founded by the leader of the 1967 military coup, replacing Nikolaos Michaloliakos, founder and current supreme leader of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazis.
Well, this Greek tragedy is the source of many lessons and deserves all the attention of the workers and the exploited peoples: the first is that it was Tsipras and Syriza that, in the last four years, resurrected and paved the way to the power of the rotten ultraconservative and ultra-neoliberal right grouped in ND, which now incorporates far-right ministers.
Moreover, Syriza’s defeat was sealed when it won the 2015 elections promising one thing and, once in power, making the exact opposite.
The U-turn
Tsipras took office on January 25, 2015, in the midst of a catastrophic economic and humanitarian crisis, capitalizing on the wear-out and popular repudiation to submission to the Troika [European Central Bank, European Commission, and IMF] of the previous governments. The PASOK’s social democratic government led by George Papandreou, in 2011, and its successor, Andonis Samarás’ ND conservative cabinet applied a ruthless austerity against the rights of the working class and delivered the country’s wealth to imperialist capital, mainly the German. Tsipras pledged not to apply the impositions of Troika’s memoranda to take electoral advantage of the situation.
In the last few years, the application of that neoliberal script had virtually broken the country. The degree of destruction of public services, the increase in unemployment levels, and the fall in living standards were terrifying.
The Greek GDP had fallen 25% in 2014, unemployment was around 26%, and 23% of the population was in poverty. The health funding had fallen 9%. Pensions were reduced between 35 and 50%. The public debt grew to 175% of GDP from 113% in 2008.
It is obvious that, in that terrible context, Syriza’s vow to face the creditors of the unfair and unpayable Greek debt once in power – although it never proposed a rupture but a firm renegotiation of the treaties – and, thus, to reverse the disaster caused by the Troika and its local agents generated a generalized wave of hope. Syriza, in addition, was associated with the dozens of strikes and mobilizations that occurred since the beginning of the crisis. ND and PASOK, after years of austerity, were “burned”, and Tsipras’ popularity did not stop growing. For the voter, outraged and ruined, Syriza represented the “new”, a possible alternative to express his repudiation of the Troika … what else could he lose?
Thus, Tsipras won the elections and that resonated throughout the world. However, it did not take long for that legitimate hope and the understandable confidence of the majority of the Greek people in Syriza to be transformed into unease and, then, into electoral rejection. Not that Syriza has disappeared from the electoral/parliamentary game. But that relationship of trust with the impoverished masses and the political weight it had before being in office will never be the same. It cannot even be ruled out that, in the future and as a result of the experience of the masses with its measures, Syriza suffers a crisis and disintegration process comparable to that of PASOK.
There is probably an emblematic date that reversed Syriza’s relationship with the Greek working masses: July 5, 2015.
Tsipras called a referendum on the acceptance or not of the third bailout or memorandum that the European Troika wanted to impose, which would generate more austerity and misery.
62% of the Greek people, despite a terror campaign plagued with apocalyptic threats and orchestrated by the bourgeois press and financial capital, courageously gave a resounding Oxi (No) to the continuity of extortion and indebtedness-austerity cycle that had brought the country to the brink of ruin.
That Oxi was clear and brave since the arrogant Troika had issued on June 25 an ultimatum threatening the expulsion of Greece from the euro. That is, the Greek people knew that by saying No they would face the almost certain possibility of a Grexit and all that it could imply.
It is known what Tsipras did after referendum result but it is more interesting to hear it from his former Minister of Finance, Yannis Varoufakis [8]: “A few hours later, Mr. Tsipras convened a meeting with the acting leader of New Democracy, and the leaders of the other pro-troika parties, whose votes he needed in parliament to pass the third bailout. It was at that moment that New Democracy was retrieved from history’s dustbin and placed on a track leading, with mathematical precision, to election victory [9].” All this happened during the celebrations in the streets as the financial capital panicked and the ND and the parties linked to austerity suffered an almost terminal crisis.
Tsipras betrayed the trust of most of the enduring and brave Greek people. From there – whether or not they voted for it in 2019 – Syriza became essentially the same as the submissive parties to the Troika for many Greeks. At most, many may see it as a mere lesser evil.
A “radical left government” betrayed the almost last hope of the majority of the people – let us imagine the ravage that this must cause in the conscience of the working masses – and kept on whipping it.
However, neo-reformism, in general, is not willing to make a balance sheet. After the monumental betrayal of Tsipras, Pablo Iglesias said: “It is sadly the only thing he could have done.” And he added: “In politics, the reasons or your diagnostic capacity do not count, what counts is power and a southern country has very little power.” Errejón, then political secretary, went further and stated that, in a similar situation, PODEMOS would do the same: “This difficult agreement, as Tsipras has reckoned, is the possible agreement before the intransigence of European leaders, it is the best solution achievable, although it has not been done thinking of the future of the euro or the EU […] We would support what the Greek Parliament supports and we would be respectful of what they have passed”[10].
Likewise, although incorporating one or another loose criticism, the Spanish Anticapitalistas – affiliated with USec in the Spanish State and now part of PODEMOS – wrote after Tsipras tore the referendum result that rejected the extortion of the Troika: “All Syriza had as an explicit objective to move towards socialism, Tsipras’ sector as well as the most radical sector. So it is legitimate to ask what has prevented them from fulfilling that goal […] It is legitimate to ask the question unless we really believe that the Syriza leadership only said that socialism was their goal to ‘deceive people’. In that case, we would fall into a moral questioning close to that of the term ‘betrayal’ [11].”
The ex-USec, thus, juggles to justify the unjustifiable: not only does it disseminate the falsehood that Tsipras and Syriza as a whole were socialists but it claims that they never wanted to “deceive people,” not to mention betraying them! And they wrote this hoax when Tsipras had just thrown the Oxi vote in the dustbin and sat down to negotiate with the vultures of the Troika about how to strike another hammer on the head of the Greek people. If that is not “betrayal” for the ex-USec, what would it be?
This type of characterization is unacceptable. The truth is that imperialism offered him the club and Tsipras used it with the same – or perhaps greater – effectiveness than his predecessors. He not only ignored the popular rejection of the Troika austerity program but imposed a more burdensome one.
His government, a coalition between Syriza and Independent Greeks, an ultra-nationalist and xenophobic party, was a succession of austerity measures: wage cuts, tax increases, and a blatant surrender of wealth to imperialism, both by paying the unbearable foreign debt and by privatizing state-owned companies at auction prices.
To this end, he created the Greek Privatization Fund (HRADF), which sold to foreign capital an additional 5% stake in OTE, Greece’s biggest telecommunications operator; 67% in Port Authority of Thessaloniki; and 66% of state-owned natural gas company shares. To this, we must add 22 million euros for the sale of the maintenance service of the Greek Iron Company and another 1,100 million euros in exchange for the concession of the Athens International Airport, among other public companies or services [12]. All incomes from this huge auction are to service the debt with German banks or from other imperialist countries.
At this point, we imagine that someone will say that not everything was so “bad;” that Tsipras did “what he could” to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the ruined country he received. Indeed, lukewarm measures were taken, absolutely insufficient to mitigate cases of extreme poverty.
Syriza created, for example, the Greek Social Solidarity Income (SSI) program, a kind of “social subsidy”, which granted 70 to 220 euros per month [9 to 30% of the Greek minimum wage, one of the lowest in Europe ] to approximately 32% of the population. It is hard to believe that it can be seen as a reform. In fact, it does not go beyond the well-known compensatory measures of social assistance recommended by the World Bank, designed exactly to contain possible social explosions and create, for those who apply them, an electorate based on clientelism.
But the people who wanted a radical change did not stop fighting. Tsipras responded by suppressing demonstrations and at least eight general strikes since the Greek people did not stand idly by or happy with crumbs while the looting continued as before “the new” [13]. Syriza’s cabinet accepted Merkel’s agreement with Turkish President Erdogan to repress refugees. It also made an agreement with the genocidal Benjamin Netanyahu sealing an alliance between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel so that, with Trump’s permission, multinationals exploit the eastern Mediterranean.
Syriza reaps what it sowed
Specifically, the working masses did not feel any favorable change with the arrival of Tsipras to power. On the contrary, they felt in their pockets, and in their stomachs – perhaps harder – the effects of Troika’s austerity that now were applied by a “leftist” government.
Thus, discontent grew, and that was reflected in the growth of struggles and strikes of all caliber. The discredit was also expressed in the European and local elections last May when Syriza won only a quarter of the popular vote.
Perhaps taking for granted the future end of its term, Syriza tried at its last parliamentary session as head of government to employ dozens of its co-workers in the parliament apparatus, many of them relatives of senior leaders of that party. The scandal at such an act of nepotism, which further strengthened ND and the rest of the traditional right, caused Tsipras to lower from 64 to 32 the number of those dubious nominees, made in a desperate and rude way while the ship was sinking.
After calling a snap election for July 7, even though Tsipras probably knew his party would lose, Syriza tried at least to save the furniture and made electoral promises such as half a million jobs and a slight increase in the minimum wage, now of 742 euros, less than half of the German.
But this was not enough. This reformism without reforms had no way out even in its own territory, the electoral one. The trust it once received had been broken long ago. The truth is, for many who supported Tsipras in 2014-2015, that Syriza was transmuted and embedded in “the system” that one day it promised to face.
To leave a last sinister legacy, Mr. Tsipras agreed on a third bailout with the international creditors in August 2018, the same that the people had rejected in July 2015.
But that did not mean the end of austerity. Quite the opposite. Actually, it could be said that Tsipras accepted a fourth bailout, under the guise of “concluding” with the third.
That is, most of the European bailout to Greece was technically rescheduled: more than one hundred billion euros to be paid by the Greek State between 2021 and 2030 were postponed beyond 2032, not without causing the interest rate to increase, of course. In return, Syriza accepted a monitoring of the Greek economy by Brussels and permanent austerity until 2060. In other words, it committed Greece to austerity policies – a budgetary surplus of 3.5% until 2022 and 2.5% later – until that date. A masterstroke and a hammering by financial capital, thanks to Syriza.
On the one hand, the new ND government will not have the debt payment rope so tight on its neck – it will have more time to pay – and thus will have more oxygen; on the other, austerity, always in the name of an illegitimate and unpayable debt, will continue – if the working people do not defeat it, obviously – for forty years more.
The truth is that the Troika cannot complain about Tsipras’ work or this type of “left” gathered around Syriza.
Defeat imperialist plans, the new ND administration, and unmask Syriza in the streets
Since 2010, the Greek bourgeois governments accepted three bailouts of European banks of 280 billion euros. That was done in exchange for the most merciless social war against the Greek working class and the people, as it occurs throughout Europe at different levels.
For Greece it meant, so far, at least 450 painful austerity laws that affected almost all areas of the State and, as we mentioned, the destruction of 25% of its GDP in a decade. It’s tragically ironic that all this was done in the name of rescuing Greece from the fate of Grexit. Greece had to be maintained in the European Union (EU) and in the euro at any cost. The fact is that the people were never rescued from the Troika. They keep on starving and unemployed. Those that were saved were the imperialist banks and companies, especially the German ones, and a sector of the Greek financial bourgeoisie, the most parasitic faction.
Tsipras left the government with the unemployment rate reaching 19.2%, the largest in the Eurozone, exceeding 40% among the youth. Young people continuously emigrate, embellishing the tiny and artificial reduction in unemployment [14]. Greece ranks third in the gloomy ranking of European countries whose population is most exposed to poverty: it is only surpassed by Romania and Bulgaria.
The economy, even without another bailout, will remain overseen by international parasites that eat away Greek riches. The public debt grew from 175% of GDP in 2015 to 181% nowadays. That is, the sell-out increased. It is estimated that the Hellenic country will recover the level of its GDP in 2009 only in 2033.
What will happen with Syriza? That’s a good question. Dimitris Rapidis, its communication advisor, said recently: “Syriza is Tsipras. The party has lost capacity since 2015, today it is weaker than then, and it is worth wondering what will happen if on Sunday [July 7] we lose the elections by a greater difference than in May. I do not rule out that it could dissolve”[15]. Such a thing, so far, cannot be assured. Neo-reformism in all its variants, because it relies on a certain situation of economic crisis and still has a social base, in addition to having demonstrated its usefulness for imperialism, is resilient.
But, in the case of Syriza, it may no longer fit with a neo-reformist party. Syriza, after taking office, has become a kind of new PASOK, a social-liberal party completely adapted to the institutions of the bourgeois state and guarantor of the interests of imperialism. It is no accident that Tsipras’ party has long been a permanent guest at the meetings of the European Social Democratic leadership. Its social and electoral bases have also changed as it greatly attracted the traditional PASOK electorate and lose a lot among the impoverished workers and popular sectors that voted for Tsipras in 2015. Not to mention that many former PASOK leaders went to Syriza leadership, especially after the purges Tsipras made of his own left-wing.
The crisis of revolutionary leadership, that is, the absence of a worker and socialist alternative – which could have presented a revolutionary program to lead the Greek masses against the Troika’s social war – contributed to the capitalization of the anger against Tsipras by the right. Consider that ND has even promised to reverse some austerity measures taken by Syriza!
But, that same crisis of revolutionary leadership may allow another neo-reformist organization, something associated with the fashionable “new politics” or Syriza itself, to take advantage of the new Greek government worn-out in the future. No. Syriza has not disappeared. Its passage by the palaces has left lessons for those who want to examine them, but its harmful effect did not end.
We would like to know: How do Luciana Genro and all those who stuck to this electoral fashion called Syriza in 2014-2015 explain this process? Are they still Syriza? What do they say about the electoral failure, the crisis and the collapse of PODEMOS in the Spanish State? What about austerity measures, more or less veiled, of the social democratic government in Portugal, supported by the CPP and the Left Bloc?
As we have proposed since 2015, it is imperative to analyze the class character and program of a party before sowing illusions in it. The question we have always been discussing is that, due to the class nature of its program, its leadership and its social base, Syriza never meant a real alternative to face the colonizing plans of imperialism, just as PODEMOS in the Spanish State or La France Insoumise launched by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
More than ever, we affirm that it is still an indispensable task of the Marxists – if it is about overcoming the crisis of revolutionary leadership – the daily struggle to unmask these reformists without reforms, agents of decadent capitalism. These currents not only demobilize and demoralize our class, but they open the way to the traditional right and, in some cases, facilitate the nefarious work of the far right.
In Greece, fortunately, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn lost half of its 2014 vote and did not hold any parliamentary seat. But, instead, the Greek Solution emerged, which, while not openly neo-Nazi, is a far-right, ultra-nationalist and extremely religious party. This abominable sector achieved 3.7%, and thus won ten parliamentary seats. These neo-Nazi, racist, xenophobic, and far-right parties generally take advantage of the open space left by neo-reformism that abandoned the fight against the EU, the euro and the austerity measures carried out, and proclaims that these institutions are or could be “Democratic” or “for the people.” And that when it is not the very neo-reformism that applies the hunger policies that emanate from Brussels. So another lesson is that neo-reformism is not able to fight and defeat the far right. On the contrary, with its pusillanimity and capitulation to the Troika and the EU, it only strengthens it.
Syriza’s experience – the only one up to now that came to the central power of a country – but also that of PODEMOS, the Left Bloc, etc., states that there is no way out of the economic crisis and the social war imposed by the capitalists from inside the system; inside the bourgeois cabinets and parliaments; inside, in the case of Europe, the EU and the euro.
These neo-reformists parties have nothing new. As they govern in a situation of very deteriorating economic crisis – that cannot allow enough room to make lasting concessions to the working class – and must deal with a highly polarized political scenario, they end up being more ephemeral as a current than their predecessors, the classic reformist parties of the 20th century.
The only effective way out is to organize and fight together in the streets with methods of workers’ democracy to face the plans of imperialism and its direct agents in our countries, the bourgeois governments, from the right or the left.
Once again, the class struggle confirms the historical dissent between capitalist reform and socialist revolution.
One cannot “reform” or “democratize” war apparatus against workers such as the European Union and the euro, proposed by Syriza or PODEMOS. The only possibility is to destroy them encouraging the workers and popular mobilization. There is no human or green capitalism, nor is it interested in the people. It’s us or them. There is no half term, in strategic perspective.
Instead of the EU and the euro as capitalist weapons, the working class and its exploited and oppressed allies must fight for a Europe of workers and peoples, the Socialist United States of Europe, as a step forward in the struggle for the destruction of imperialism and the establishment of a classless society worldwide.
Notes:
[1] Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the son of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister in the early 1990s, brother of Dora Bakoyanis, former mayor of Athens and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and uncle of Kostas Bakoyanis, son of Dora Bakoyanis and newly elected mayor of Athens. Undoubtedly a very “lucky” family.
[2] https://www.terra.com.br/noticias/brasil/politica/luciana-genro-compara-luta-do-psol-a-do-partido-grego,6ff120014a82b410VgnVCM10000098cceb0aRCRD.html
[3] http://www.corrienteroja.net/el-desmoronamiento-de-podemos/
[4] PASOK, the Greek Social Democratic Party, obtained 4.6% [13 MPs] in 2015. Dilacerated by the crisis and its measures in office, it is completely declining. In 2019 it campaigned as Movement for Change [Kinal, for its acronym in Greek] and got 8.1%.
[5] Antarsya, an anti-capitalist coalition, obtained 23,191 (0.41%) votes. Popular Unit, a split of Syriza in 2015, got 15,930 (0.28%) votes, down from September 2015, when it won 155,320 (2.86%) votes. Both were left without parliamentary representation. The KKE [Greek Communist Party] remained practically at the same level as 2015, reaching 5.3%.
[6] It is worth remembering that, according to the Greek electoral system, the most voted party gets a bonus of 50 deputies.
[7] https://www.istoedinheiro.com.br/kyriakos-mitsotakis-toma-posse-como-primeiro-ministro-da-grecia/
[8] Current leader of DiEM25 [Movement for Democracy in Europe 2025], which obtained 3.4% of the vote and nine seats in Parliament.
[9] https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2019/07/how-syriza-s-capitulations-allowed-greek-right-escape-dustbin-history
[10] https://www.eldiario.es/politica/Podemos-respalda-Tsipras-Apogamos-Parlamento_0_409809150.html. See also: https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2015/08/21/55d6f95522601d44058b457a.html
[11] https://www.anticapitalistas.org/art%C3%ADculos/la-izquierda-despues-de-syriza/. The highlight is ours. This note was also published on the Viento Sur website, linked to the former USec.
[12] https://www.elciudadano.com/mundo/grecia-sigue-subastando-sus-empresas-publicas-para-pagarle-al-fmi/06/21/
[13] https://www.elmundo.es/economia/2018/05/30/5b0eebe646163f9f7f8b4591.html
[14] Around half a million young people with higher education left the country since the beginning of the crisis.
[15] https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/07/06/actualidad/1562444193_323902.html